Charles Starrett

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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.

Private libraries

We all walk around with enormous amounts of information in our heads. Bits from books we’ve read, shows we’ve watched, observations from meetings, experiences with family — the list of sources is endless.

Not only do we have all this information on our mental library shelves, but it all has a particular spin that is unique to us. Our own lenses and filters that we’ve developed over years of influences give a particular flavor to what we know and what we think.

Every person’s head is like a private library with a particular awareness of the world in it. A bit of awareness which is both true (to the library’s owner at least), and incomplete.

When we listen to another person, we have a few options. One option is to compare what they are saying to what is already on our library shelves. If what they say matches a book we have, we agree with it. If it doesn’t, we disagree and reject it. We leave the conversation with our library unchanged. Our awareness of the world is the same as it was before.

On the other hand, if the other person says something that isn’t already in our library, we have the opportunity to add a new book to our shelves. Some new technical knowledge, or a biographical experience, or even a different philosophical understanding of the world. Just like in a real library, the books on our shelves may appear to contradict each other a bit, but at the same time, our awareness of the world has become broader, more nuanced, and higher resolution.

And if the other person also listened with an intention to add to their library rather than to defend it, then you both have a fuller awareness of the world.

Why does this matter? Because if we’re going to successfully solve the challenges of our world today, we have to do it together. And shared action requires shared awareness of where we’re starting from.

26 July 2022

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